Trump And Kim's Singapore Sideshow
Expect plenty of talk this week and lots of colourful posturing – but no enforceable agreement to strip North Korea of the Bomb.
Not since Reagan and Gorbachev squared off in Reykjavik, Iceland more than 30 years ago has a leaders’ summit excited such intrigue as the spectacle brewing in Singapore.
What a scene.
Trump and Kim sport the two worst haircuts in world politics (though with a hat tip to Britain’s Boris Johnson). They also share a flair for base-level abuse.
Kim Jong-Un has branded Trump “mentally deranged” while his state-run media went with “rabid dog” and a “lunatic.”
For his part, Trump has called Kim a “maniac,” a “madman” and a “sick puppy.”
It should be a good chat.
They will meet, in diplomatic tradition, as equals.
In reality, North Korea’s economy is less than a third the size of Rhode Island, the American state so tiny it is remembered only on trivia nights. Put another way, when Kim gazes out from his bunker it is onto a nation generating half the economic activity of Tasmania, with a population 50 times larger.
To understand North Korea, you would be better to forgo books on modern politics and reach for an episode of Game of Thrones. Kim rules, as did his father and grandfather before him, through feudal and murderous cruelty.
Almost forgotten in the publicity about the Singapore location is that just an hour’s flying time to the west is Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where the leader’s half-brother Kim Jong-Nam was murdered with banned VX nerve agent just last year.
No-one seriously doubts Kim Jong-Un ordered the hit.
So why is Donald Trump squandering the high prestige of his office on this nasty little creep?
Everyone knows the reason.
North Korea has tested six nuclear weapons including a super-powerful hydrogen bomb. Some estimates have it that he will control up to 100 nuclear warheads by 2020.
And illegal missile tests over Japan demonstrate Kim now has rockets capable of reaching the American mainland. The crisis, long-brewing, has fallen to Donald J. Trump to resolve.
His belief that the threat is real can be seen in his pledge to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Kim maintains his posture of nuclear aggression.
So, at least they’re talking.
But what can we expect?
Plenty of theatre: it matters to both men.
Both will preen and display. The sight of two pampered men-children rubbing each other down may be the most genuinely fascinating aspect of the whole show.
As for substance, don’t expect too much.
The easy win is an official declaration that the Korean War is finally over. When the guns fell silent in 1953, it was with an armistice not a peace treaty.
Technically, the war never ended.
In recent weeks, North and South Korea have agreed to work towards a peace treaty by the end of the year. Donald Trump could formally sign up to the notion.
That alone might be enough to win them the Nobel Prize.
But it won’t change much.
The key American demand, the verifiable, irreversible end to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and means of production, is undeliverable at any price.
Sure, the leaders might announce a “process” towards it. But like Middle East peace negotiations, it will be all process, not peace.
Because Kim Jong-Un can never totally disarm. His nuclear weapons have given him a seat at the table. And he’d rather sit at the table, than duck and cover beneath it.